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Can You Leave a Bay Leaf in Spaghetti Sauce and Other Recipes?

Three images of recipes from the article below including Taste of Home's Spaghetti sauce, The Recipe Critics beef bourguignon and Food Networks chicken noodle soup.
Taste of Home/The Recipe Critic/Chicken Noodle Soup

Have you ever furrowed your brow over a recipe that calls for a whole bay leaf, and then directs you to remove it before serving? Whether you’re making grandma’s famous spaghetti sauce or trying out a new recipe that calls for this particular herb, here’s the lowdown on the flavor-infusing bay leaf.

Why a Whole Bay Leaf?

If you grab a dried bay leaf and give it a good whiff, you probably won’t get much from it. Once the bay leaf has an opportunity to soak into a dish like a sauce or stew, the dainty little guy really begins to shine.

When heated and exposed to moisture, bay leaf gives off a tea-like scent and provides a subtly earthy flair that’ll help lighten up a heavy or hearty dish. As the leaf cooks in a high-moisture meal (like spaghetti sauce), the heat will help break down the leaf’s properties and release some of those hidden flavors within.

In essence, like other herbs, bay leaf is a flavor enhancer and, essentially, a quick, easy way to round out a homey dish.

Why Remove the Bay Leaf Before Serving?

A wooden bowl full of bay leaves.
Ekaterina Kondratova/Shutterstock.com

Fishing a single bay leaf out of a dish before serving it is a bit of a nuisance. Of course, some people think finding a rough leaf in their spaghetti dinner is like finding gold.

After your dish simmers away for about an hour or so, the bay leaf starts losing its so-called oomph or potency. So, there’s really no need to leave it in much longer than the cooking time.

Plus, instead of softening up like other herbs, bay leaves keep their rigid texture, even after bathing in stews and soups for hours. Because their edges are sharp and gritty, eating them can be unpleasant, and even pose some health risks.

So, for safety’s sake, be sure to find that pale green leaf and remove it before serving your family or guests.

Now, let’s explore some sauces, stews, and soups that can all be enhanced by the bay leaf.

Spaghetti Sauce

a plate of spaghetti toppe with homemade sauce.
Taste of Home

A standard spaghetti sauce typically calls for aromatic ingredients, like onion, garlic, herbs, and, almost always, bay leaf. This crowd-pleasing recipe by Taste of Home is no exception and making it is super simple.

Let your Dutch oven simmer away as the fresh, earthy bay leaf notes seep into the sauce before you devour it.

Bolognese Sauce

An enamed cast iron Dutch oven filled with a hearty bolognese sauce with pepper and herbs on the side.
Spend with Pennies

Bolognese (often called ragù) is another meat sauce with a hearty flair and unique additional ingredients, like carrots, celery, and milk.

It’s also typically served with tagliatelle or pappardelle, a flat strand-like pasta, but feel free to try any tube pasta, like rigatoni.

Beef Bourguignon

A bowl of hot beef bourguignon with a spoon
The Recipe Critic

Beef Bourguignon is another European classic meant to simmer away in your brightly colored Le Creuset Dutch oven.

The red wine, beef, and hearty root veggies all tenderize in a hot, gently bubbling broth. And yes, it’ll make your home smell like heaven. Once the herbs and garlic unite, your soul-warming meal will be ready.

Chicken Noodle Soup

A bowl of hot chicken noodle soup filled with celery, carrots, egg noodles and parsley.
Food Network

You guessed it! Chicken noodle soup is another delicious classic that boasts a tasty broth once the delicate flavor of bay leaf soaks in. If you’ve never added one to your soup, this recipe is a great place to start.


All this talk about sauces and soups is sure to make anyone’s tummy grumble. And the results will be even more satisfying if you add a versatile bay leaf during the simmering process. You’ll wonder why you never tried it before, so why stop there? Let the tasty herbal experimentation continue.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »

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